In music, it has been long said, that the hardest thing is not getting to the top but staying there. The amount of effort it takes to maintain a band's trajectory, momentum, elevation, uplift, and any number of business speak synonymies is, well, harder than getting spotted and releasing an album in the first place.
With a second album there is far more scrutiny than with the first. Especially if the first was universally praised. This is the situation Sima Cunningham and Macie Stewart, AKA OHMME, find themselves in. Their debut album ‘Parts’ was an improvised art wonder. It made you sit up and take notice, without drowning you in feedback.
‘Fantasize Your Ghost’ follows on from where ‘Parts’ left off. But this is not ‘Parts 2.0’, oh no, the album this is a far more elegant filled with graceful peaks and subtle slopes. In the two years since their debut the band have toured extensively. Honing their sound and dynamic. They have also had the opportunity to play to crowds that were not as familiar with them whilst on tour with Wilco, Iron & Wine and Twin Peaks.
This new confidence comes across in the music. Opening track ‘Flood Your Gut’ opens with a catchy guitar riff. It immediately gets up your attention. If you were at a gig and this started, you would stop talking and start listening. The catchy chorus showcases their harmonies that would not be out of place on a Sparks album. Throughout you we are told that this is not going to be a passive experience. We are expected to pay attention in case we miss something. ‘Selling Candy’ is the most propulsive track on the album. After the graceful opener OHMME are checking we are paying attention.
Lyrically the album is full of their existential charm. “You are the product of a happenstance” they sing on 'Ghost'. Followed shortly by “Antiseptic analytical mind. With your steel-toed boots and your boots in a line” and “You had a notion to keep killing time. But the clock is a wreck and you’ve already died”. In another’s hands these would be biting, but they are played off almost as one liners.
On ‘3 2 4 3’ they croon “If I hadn't walked eight miles to make something else happen. The day would've slipped out of my grasp. Just like my reflection”, but the chorus of “Different today, but I'm the same” could be the lyric of the album.
‘Sturgeon Moon’ is the most abstract track on the album. Here they fully embrace the improvisational nature of their debut. There is a call and response between Cunningham and Stewart. One plays something on one instrument and the other tries to copy it on another. Then one will start a new motif while the other carries on with the original. At no point does the music start to grate. Their call and response solos work for the song, rather showing off how proficient they are. There are nods to Sonic Youth, John Zorn, Ornette Coleman, Laurie Anderson, and Pauline Overos whilst never sounding like pastiche.
Throughout ‘Fantasize Your Ghost’ Cunningham and Stewart never let their vocals rise above talking level to get their point across. It is like the Jake Roberts quote: “If a man has enough power, he can speak softly, and everyone will listen”. And listening we are. The same can be said for improvised music. There is a tendency to play loud and fast. This way mistakes can be hidden under layers of feedback and noise.
Musically ‘Fantasize Your Ghost’ is a stripped back affair where their dextrous playing comes to the fore. By stripping everything back, removing distortion we are left with sleek compositions that do not need to shout, or rage, to get their point across. It is captivating. What is more, we’re listening to every note and hanging on every word.
Words: Nick Roseblade
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